Jena Malone

by Matthew Bedard

The Natural Triggers Between the Two of Us?
I’m bounding through the treetops with Jena Malone. We’re unafraid. We’re cool. We’re wearing next to nothing and that’s okay—here amidst the hybridized Brunswick-Palms, diseased, tall, and non-native like their forefathers, yet brutally stubborn in their survival—because it’s pleasant up here, and the hard to place aquatic breeze feels juuuuuuust peachy. Below though? The piss and stink and mercilessness and glamour and ingenuity of our fair CALIFUK, that super-city thunk up by the silly editors of this silly rag that combines The Big Orange with The Big Smoke, and seeks, I suppose, to understand not only condensed matter physics and the perfect gluten-free bread pudding, but also our shared futures.

But how did we get up here, to the lushness, the reprieve, to the expansive vistas?

Well, Malone’s ascent, if we’re considering the film work that dominates additional crafting including music, poetry, art, and permaculture, was a steady and varied one. Since her debut at 12 in 1996’s Angelica Huston-directed, Bastard Out of Carolina, Jena Malone’s exercised her chops in its domestic drama, as well as fantasy (three installments of The Hunger Games, including the forthcoming second installment of Mockingjay), to sci-fi doom-noir (Donnie Darko), to stoned cold (PTA’s Inherent Vice), to of the moment-cum-CALIFUK-esque realism in unreleased The Neon Demon (alongside Keanu Reeves, Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, and recent Flaunt cover dish, Abbey Lee), of which she glows about below, among numerous others.

But how did Jena Malone get to CALIFUK, this washed out mega-reticulum of power and compromise? Well, for starters, she’s fierce. See her athletically lean frame tip the tops of these trees like sea breeze daiquiris, her eye lock on you that of a crossbow. Like the city below her, it’s evident she could chew you up (rumors coat the web at the moment of her playing Barbara Gordon in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and love you to pieces between bites. When Jena Malone engages with her fellow citizens in those intervals when she descends the stalks of these Brunswick-Palms, her feel is eccentric but there’s no quotations eccentric presentation, or preoccupation. In short, she’s a cool bitch.

But how did we arrive back at the photo shoot that preceded all this CALIFUK blah blah, inside a DTLA Arts District warehouse turned soon to kick full throttle brewery, examining permaculture potential and mustering how this clustering fuck of a city might take small steps towards closing the sustainability loop? Because aside from brewing ales and stouts, this space might be best served by how-to demonstrations from around the community, Jena Malone tells me, and the cycle spin studios popping up all over town ought to power themselves with its thousands and thousands of wheel cranks, and we need more poetry outlets, and we ought to be reusing our bathwater because there’s no flipping water left, because these are all key ingredients to what she’s applied to her life and what she’d like to further apply downtown, where’s she’s now a resident.

But how are we also going to hear what Jena Malone thinks about the importance of urban impact, and artifice, and role-playing, and generation divide, and teenage hunger for war of an unknown kind?

Well, we’re gonna stop our tree hopping and ask her.

One of the stories we’re doing in the CALIFUK issue centers around billboards as these multitudinous cultural artifacts and I wanted to assess your opinion on billboards in the city of Los Angeles and how you feel about them?

Wow, well I mean, aesthetically Los Angeles wouldn’t be Los Angeles without the landscape of the billboard, you know? And what is the birth of the billboard? It was the marquee. And it’s almost going back to that sort of Vaudevillian thing, like lights up in the sky that draw people in with this sort of hope and want of something bigger and brighter. And I love their development—since the turn of the century, and since Los Angeles was populated by first: cattle farmers and orchards, and then: silent filmmakers or the Vaudevillian theater scene, and now the billboards are sort of Hollywood consumerism. I like that billboards are these relics of empty promises.

Inherent Vice had a few really marvelous, mechanical billboards promoting it in a couple of spots in L.A. that kind of championed that—the history of promise—and obviously the film spoke to the promise of California’s failure to deliver on promises. 

Well, I think that, for me, Paul Thomas Anderson makes narratives about Los Angeles like no one else. Like what he did with the Valley in Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. He writes these movies, usually these absurd love letters, like time capsules of like Los Angeles myths, and I think that’s what Thomas Pynchon does as well, particularly in Inherent Vice. It was this love letter to the myth of Los Angeles, but what was really clever was that what he shows in this era is sort of the death of the dream. The end of the ’60s and the beginning of the ’70s, the death of this dream of free love. Everyone was kind of waking up stoned and totally hung over and realizing that they had a lot of cleaning up to do.

I think there’s something to CALIFUK that’s a similarly dystopian optimism in the initiative and in some of our architectural place making—but it’s also sort of about death of the dream. What attracts you to that sort of subject matter? 

I guess I don’t find any subject matter non-attractive. I find them all attractive. And any subject through a visionary’s eyes always becomes more interesting. It would be really hard for me to even think about those eras that way—because I didn’t live in them—without having read the book or being part of the film. So, it just really is about who’s discussing the topic—that’s how much beauty this era can hold. There’s pretty much interesting stuff in everything, you know?

And do you feel like that’s a curiosity or an openness you’ve always had or possessed or do you think that’s something you’ve cultivated over time? 

I mean, I think that it’s a natural thing that all children have—just like an interest in everything. But I think that being raised in the industry of storytelling, and allowing myself to have a voice at a young age, and calling myself a storyteller, made me further that interest and made me lose interest less. When you’re a kid, it’s really easy to lose interest. You go from one love to the next, but I think when you have a focus when you’re young, you develop the art of falling in love with everything.

Having a younger sister who’s more in the sort of millennial space, do you think there’s been a departure in curiosity amongst America’s youth versus that which you’re familiar with, or is it still the same? 

There are so many gaps between my age group and the millennial. There’s so much being planted as well, you know? Just yesterday I was talking to her and her friends and I was like, “Do you guys date? What is a normal date for you guys?” And she was like, “we don’t date anymore. We text.” And that just broke my heart. All of the romance of having your parents drop you off at a movie theater and the sweaty palms of the first touching hands and the nervous energies of two young bodies next to each other—the fact that they’re just texting everything makes me really feel sad in a way. But in another way they’re also really getting to know each other, through a safe way, and they’re really putting it out there and getting to know before they jump in, which is maybe also a good thing. I think they know more so they’re less curious, but the fact that they can look anything up, nothing gets by them. Their sense of truth is far more intact that my sense of truth ever was, you know? But their sense of curiosity is waning. So I don’t know which is more important?

Another feature within the issue is this sort of off the rails, ornate English-style tea party in an empty pool, which is a rough, seedy, swimming hole in the Southern end of Echo Park near the 101 freeway—so very CALIFUK but also at its core, still ceremonious. What’s ceremonious about Jena Malone? 

Ceremony is such a lost art. It has to be something that you really carry with you because society doesn’t really make it easy for you to uphold ceremonies. I love full moons and building larger acts around smaller things like moving into a house, or getting rid of a car. or before you go into surgery. I feel like I want to build ceremonies around those types of actions more than where it’s the ceremonies that kind of divide people, like sitting down to dinner and me not knowing which fucking fork to pick up—I don’t feel like that’s a ceremony that enlivens my heart. That’s a ceremony that makes me feel small.

Earlier, you said that generally speaking, subject matter is interesting for you based on who’s packaging it, or conveying the story behind it. Obviously there’s the Hunger Games story and subject matter that you’ve been a part of. What draws you to the spirit behind that project?

The past ten years I think a lot of us—and I think of us in the sense of people in their late 20s and 30s—are seeing this sort of revolution of youth, that they’re hungry for these films and these stories and these myths. And it’s really kind of easy to lump them all together, like Harry Potter, and Twilight, and Divergent. There are so many different things, and I wondered if this was all just another youth fixation? And then I read the book and I realized, “Holy shit, these books are talking about war in a way that is so unusual. These books are talking about war and how they interact with everyday people in a way that KTLA, or a Los Angeles news program, whatever, evening news, won’t even touch upon, you know?” And I thought that’s really fucking interesting. These eight-year-old girls, 16-year-old boys are hungry for the truth of war. So, I guess that the most exciting thing for me, is that they were really interesting anti-war novels. And it made me want to dig even deeper into the truth of what it is to be war-torn. Whether it’s through the country, through your mind, through your body; all of these things and how war penetrates people.

The other day when I was heaving exhaustion about the job of pulling together CALIFUK you told me that creativity can be war. Do you think you’re part of a creative war at times? 

Oh yeah, for sure. But I like the battle. It’s a battle to bring the things that live inside of you out, and make them real. And creating for yourself is one thing—like that’s an inner battle and that’s not as hard—but creating in a group, creating most of the things we create, we can’t just do it alone. To create a masterpiece, you know you have to bring in the brigade. You have to rally the troops. You have to feed them during hard times. You celebrate your victories together, and sometimes you walk away with blood on your hands. And the same for filmmaking and me, it’s a battle. It feels so hard in so many ways, you know? The ease of it is so subtle, it’s so rare.

You mentioned that war can be used to get something out of you, which might speak to suppression or repression of things. Do you ever think that there’s value in repression? 

No, I don’t think that there’s any value in it. I think that continuing throughout the modern age, the scientific age, the spiritual age, the metaphysical age—every single teaching has taught us that the things that we hold in and do not discuss or analyze eat us up and kill us. Whether we’re talking about cancer or we’re talking about fear or we’re talking about repression of your identity. I mean, so many things, if they’re not brought out, and they’re not supported, it’s gonna be the opposite. They will die inside. Repression equals death. Wow, this interview is so much about death and war! Death and dying, death, death.

Well, let’s talk about your attraction to permaculture—the opposite of death. You’ve got experience doing workshops in Oregon, and you’re fixing to continue implementing some of these practices into your lifestyle. Describe your relationship to permaculture and its importance? 

Well—and yes here’s a segue—I mean we live with so much death right? Our trashcans, the landfills, the death of electronics, old clothes, buying plastic bottles of water. We live in this cradled grave mentality, you know? And we concentrate so much on things dying that we don’t think about how they’re born. For me, permaculture helps me realize that if you start seeing life as the cradle’s cradle—that every single entity and every single act and every single object doesn’t die—it just gets recreated and reborn. It lightens my entire mentality toward people, understanding the cycle and that it’s not all these true lines of destruction. Consider the plastic bottles of water that I choose. Where does that bottle end up? It’s going to live longer than I will, you know? I came to permaculture first because I finished Suckerpunch (2011) and I was really strong—my whole body was vibrating with muscle and power and I wanted to go build houses, Habitat for Humanity, and I just wanted to go away and join the Peace Corps for six months and I kept trying to find all these things, and it was January and nobody was really taking people. I couldn’t find the right one. And then I was like maybe I’ll just find a way to do sustainable building—I really wanna build shit. And I found this eco-village in Eugene, Oregon called The Lost Valley and they had a whole program on eco-building, sustainable building, green architecture, and permaculture. And I was like, “Wow, what’s permaculture?” Looked it up and realized it was like everything I ever wanted to know about everything. And I went there for about a month and a half and studied all of those things and it changed everything. I mean, I never went to college, I went away to high school and somehow now I’m a certified permaculturalist. It’s like looking at your garden and saying, “Okay, what are the energies that are coming out of this garden? I’ve got wind coming in here, I’ve got this natural water source, I’ve got these dogs that shit in the corner. How can we use all of these things to make it flow?” Instead of the shit being the thing that you have to go and dump like five miles down the road, we have to figure out what to do with that shit in our own garden. Turn it back into something. It’s a really liberating outlook. It’s so natural. It’s natural systems thinking. Nothing outlandish. We live with so much waste and surplus that I feel like a permaculture mindset instantly makes you not live beyond your means. It instantly makes you live exactly as you need to live because you’re giving what you want to put out and what comes back is what you’re giving.

Do you think some of the values or the tenets of permaculture are applicable to our human-to-human relationships? 

Oh definitely. There are basically 12 rules to permaculture that can be applied to every single thing. Whether it’s applied to how a brewery deals with its water, or whatever. It can be applied to how I communicate with my sister—or interfamily relations. Or how we fight with a lover. It’s just honoring what exists. And if it is between human to human, what exists? What exists? Is that the fear in both of us? The natural triggers between the two of us? And we also have a lot of love. So how do we make a system that can actually feed our love and not trigger our triggers, you know? But yet, still honor the triggers, because they’re part of a flow. You can apply it to so many things.

Well, as far as what exists for you in the space of work, what have you been working on or what’s been forthcoming that you’re excited about? 

There are so many films coming out. I’m excited about the final Hunger Games coming out but it’s also a little strange. Like a whole strange ending. I guess there’s like a handful of films that are looking for a place to live in the world that I really care about, that are sort of independent, so I don’t know where they’ll go. One’s called Angelica. One’s called Bottom of the World, another one’s called Love Song. I just finished the most incredible acting job I’ve ever had, which was with Nicolas Winding Refn on The Neon Demon. It was pretty much the best work I’ve ever done in my whole life.

Tell me more. 

Well, he demands everything and gives you 100-percent freedom. He wants every single thing from you, he wants you to use every corner, every alley, every idea, he wants to try everything. He wants it personal, interesting, honest, he wants you to keep digging, and to let you work on the character as much as you want. Beyond that he fully directed me—I mean, there were like two or three times on set where it was like an out of body experience. And it was so rare for me. Like it’s only happened to me four or five times in the 20 years that I’ve been acting. And those experience have usually all been self-induced. But to have a director induce possession was really—it was a whole other fucking world.

Perhaps a preamble to this other fucking world of CALIFUK? 

Sure, why not!?

Photographer: Yu Tsai for Opusreps.com.

Stylist: Sean Knight for Jedroot.com.

Hair: Dimitris Giannetos for Opusbeauty.com using Oribe.

Makeup: Rachel Goodwin for Starworksartists.com.

Manicure: Brittni Rae for Nailinghollywood.com.

Producer: Trever Swearingen for 88phases.com.

Location: Boom Town Brewery, Los Angeles at Boomtownbrew.com.